A former chef pursued for nearly €38,000 in the District Court this week (July 1 ) was ordered to re-pay just €5 a month by a sympathetic judge, after he heard the original debt was just a €3,500 overdraft and a €10,000 personal loan at the time the business collapsed in 2002.
Judge Seamus Hughes was also critical of the debt recovery agency, who he heard were a division of legal behemoths Mathieson Ormsby Prentice, called AB Wolfe Debt Recovery Solicitors.
“Are they ashamed to call themselves MOPs? I’ve never heard of a firm using two names. Really, this man is trying to keep the wolf from his door,” said the judge.
He also declared “excessive” the €510 costs the debtor accrued for costs with every court date, but was told this was decreed in the Circuit Court in Roscommon in 2008.
The former chef, who was defending himself, told the court he had previously submitted a statement of means and was paying a mortgage, and bills for the family home.
The father of five, now in his forties, left the catering trade in 2002, trained as a plumber, and worked abroad up until three years ago when the Circuit Court judgement for €22,000 was awarded against him.
The debt now stands at €37,441, and he is presently in receipt of job seekers allowance of €330 per week.
Accepting his circumstances as were presented, Judge Hughes told the defendant: “You must religiously pay €5 a month or they’ll look for you to go to prison”.
The man worked his way to head chef in a large Dublin hotel in the 80s, and bought a family house in a Dublin 6 suburb for IR£67,000. He sold this house in 2000 and moved his family to a large holiday town in the south of Ireland, and went to work in another landmark hotel.
Whilst here, a financial advisor suggested he rent a restaurant from a local developer, which he did.
“I was not as good a businessman as I thought I was,” he said.
“They’re like a little f***in’ Mafia in [that town],” he added, pointing out that his financial adviser, landlord, banker, and solicitor were all known to each other, and recommended each others’ services.
Within two months his devloper landlord began to renovate a neighbouring property, planted a skip in the lane, and thus turned the thoroughfare into a cul-de-sac for the next couple of months.
“I’m not blaming this. It was naiveté and stupidity,” he said, admitting he didn’t seek additional legal and financial advice.
“I’m not a lad who never worked. I’ve worked all my life, and I don’t like signing on the dole. But there’s weeks where I don’t have a penny, and I’m afraid of where they might put me. I was just trying to make a go of it, and look where it got me”.
“He [financial adviser] was getting well paid, and I was doing my own tax returns. A greenhorn like me in business? Why wasn’t I a limited company?”
“I took advice at face value. Well, I’m a different man now.”